Director Maro Chermayeff relates the experiences faced by her and her crew in recording the journey of CARRIER.
|Courtesy of CARRIER
The entire team has been in Coronado for several days now, preparing to set off on a six-month deployment with the U.S. Navy. We literally are scrambling to get everything accomplished before we board the Nimitz and depart on this amazing journey. The ship is set to depart by 9am on the 7th, but we will have to have everyone and everything on board long before. The Navy has advised us to bring on EVERYTHING we will need as the ship is forward deployed and the set schedule, which is “classified” and can and will change (loose lips sink ships).
We are boarding with an amazing crew, whom we were able to pull together in a very short time. Everyone has said goodbyes to their own lives friends, families, children and are ready to board. We have determined that we will need to begin our on-load and storage days in advance. We have multiple cameras, sounds gear, lighting gear, all our stock, office supplies and clothing, and it is going to take us hours to get it on board and stowed away safely in our berthing and production office. And the departure day is a huge shoot in and of itself. So we must really have everything done a day in advance.
I know that this important departure event will be the opening of the entire series, so a multi-tiered coordination of shooting will be taking place all morning: We have Joan Churchill and Alan Barker shooting family goodbyes on the pier. Our production manager Louise Shelton is managing our jimmy jib crane which is pier side but will rise 50 feet into the air and follow sailors as they board and give an amazing high angle on the crowd as the sailors are sent off. Producers, in the field Pam Yates, Matthew Akers and Michelle Smawley are covering sailors as they come on board, along with those working on the flight deck, pilot house and pre fly as they begin working and preparing for the manning of the rails. Producer, Deborah Dickson, Jeff Dupre and myself are tracking down stories, finding subjects, and coordinating the ballet of activities, which occur across this city of 5,000.
Michael Polaire is in the air, coordinating and directing our helicopter aerials. We have brought on cinematographer Paul Ryan at the recommendation of my friend and colleague Jamie Redford Paul was the cinematographer of his feature film “Spin”, which had tons of fantastic aerial camera work, and Paul was 2nd unit on a number of beautifully shot features including “A River Runs Though It” and “The Horse Whisperer”. Michael and Paul have been working together and gone on a aerials scout to assess how and what the best ways to shoot the aircraft carrier are. Additionally, we have had a lot of coordination with Mini Boss on the Nimitz and Peter Hunt because we have plans to shoot as close to the carrier as possibly permitted as well as fly over the top and all around. This requires a lot of coordination, as military ships don’t generally look the other way when unknown civilian helicopters hover overhead. Our helicopter pilot will be Dirk Vahle, who was highly recommended by our consulting Producer David M. Kennedy (USN Retired). Dirk has shot aerials in and around carriers many times, and David has worked with him before on past feature films; so he was an excellent addition to the team and Dirk made the Mini Boss really comfortable when they all had an advance meeting to sort out the logistics.
We have planned in advance and shot some aerial tests, which we all reviewed. We definitely know there is a beautiful shot coming around the Coronado cliffs as the carrier heads out to sea, that will be very dramatic also, shots around the flight deck, with the sailors manning the rails will be a must. The primary issue is timing, gasoline and refueling as well as our crew’s positioning on the ship filming on the flight deck and not getting in the aerial shots, so we needed to coordinate. We also want the helicopter to follow the ship as far as it can out to sea before it must turn back so we can get a sense of the entire departure. Sadly we will have no chance to re-group with Michael, Paul or Dirk after the shoot because all of us will be on the ship heading west!
One of the biggest challenges in a city of 5,000 shipmates is selecting individuals with great personal stories who are willing and able to have a film crew following them daily over the course of several months. While on our two scouts, Deborah Dickson and I met some great people and also learned much more about all the jobs on the ship. I know that we want to have sailors from the Admiral down to the kitchen and everyone in between; meaning we must have a selection of people, with varied job, background, ethnicities, as well as personal and political viewpoints. What I have found is that the ship is as diverse as any small town, so finding these individuals is actually not a tough task. The problem is the number of great people to choose from and everyone has an amazing story. So it is tough to choose. What is important is not just if they are individually great but how do they fit as a group and what are they bringing to the story that, in combination with the others, makes the overall story and themes of the series more complete.
I often like to find individuals who are themselves at a crossroads, so that they will have their own journey, changes, story arcs, and personal themes that organically align with the themes of the series.
My feeling at the moment is that we will likely select and follow more participants losing or de-emphasizing some stories along the way while finding others down the road in editing. But, like the carrier itself not knowing where we are going and what will happen we cannot predict where people’s lives and this deployment will take any of the participants. From a production standpoint I have assigned certain areas of the ship and certain subjects to our three producers, in the field.
Matthew Akers: I knew Matt in passing from PBS/WNET, where he was working on the series EGG when I was producing and directing on Frontier House. Matt will be following many of our participants in the enlisted ranks. In that Matt will follow also CMC, Command Master Chief, Chris Penton. CMC is senior enlisted on the ship and the minute we met him we knew that he was funny, and yet “dead-serious” about his job and the performance of the sailors on this deployment. He is a small but wild package and likely will be a great person to be a touchstone throughout the series. Matt, being the youngest of our producers at 28 is also much closer in age to all the 18, 19, 20 years old on the ship. So I feel that they may be able to relate to him more easily.
Michelle Smawley, whom I have worked with before, is incredibly professional yet dogged and very empathetic. She will be following several pilots, and the shooters (who are on the flight deck and in the “bubble” and are the individuals who hit the fire button that catapults the jets off the ship.) She will also cover folks in primary flight control, or Pri Fly, and work under the Air Boss and Mini Boss. This is a great place on the ship at the top of the tower, overlooking the flight deck with tons of actions and commentary. Plus light and air. And we have met in advance some wonderful young kids working up there: Shaneka McReed among them. She is from Athens, Georgia and has been in the Navy for a few years now. She has an amazing personal story. She and Michelle have already hit it off and are talking up a storm.
Pamela Yates, whom I have known for many years will cover the Black Aces Squadron, as well as some of the senior officers on the ship, including the Admiral and the Captain. Pam is very knowledgeable politically, and also extremely professional in her demeanor. So I have total faith in her ability to find organic ways through our subjects, to bring the story of the Navy in this war and the mission of the Nimitz on this deployment into our material.
After the February and March scout periods, I titled and wrote an outline for every episode. It was through my observations on the scout and conversations with the people on the ship that I was sable to get a sense of what themes would be critical to explore. I have found that there is so much more humor on the ship then I expected and can see now how the humanity of ship life will resonate throughout every hour. It is so hard to imagine what this experience really will be like and how the harsh reality of the political situation and war will reveal itself over the course of the deployment. I imagine that as we learn more about the people on board, they will learn more about us and that is when we will find the magic in the material.
Controlled Chaos applies to every element of the ship: It defines the flight deck, the mess decks and the state of our crew. It has been so difficult this first month finding subjects, coordinating with subjects, learning where we are, how to get places quickly, how to work safely on the flight deck, how to have meaningful time off and let the crew relax a little, how to get our e-mails, how to coordinate and remain in contact with our PM Louise and our Post Supervisor Bob Mayer who also has come on board in the NY Office.
It is so difficult just to maneuver around the ship, adjust to the food (which I am not sure will ever happen for us), screen dailies and track subjects. Everyone on the ship is so busy and the ship runs 24 hours. We are starting to adjust to the incredible noise. Our berthings are below Catapult 3, so the volume is just enormous. And we have so much equipment and so little storage. Getting up and down the ladders and through the passageways with any ease is just a complete challenge. We have already determined that we will need another hand, and have arranged an addition to our team, Joshua Bennett, who joined us when we hit port in Hawaii.
While the ship appears very clean, it is also difficult to keep clean in this city with jet fumes, grease, and living in such close quarters. Our producer Jeff Dupre has gotten in an ingrown beard hair on the side of his cheek and the side of his face literally is growing by the day with an apparent staph infection. In Hawaii this will require immediate treatment. I think this is just the beginning of the potential health issues that our crew may face. There is an entire hospital on board and I am spending some time there to determine if this should be featured in later episodes. The nurse is nicknamed by everyone on the ship as “the curse” but she is actually very helpful. Everyone on the crew had to be given a complete physical even to be permitted on the ship, which, for safety reasons, has weight and other restrictions. Additionally, we all had to have numerous inoculations both to be on the ship, and for the various countries around the world that we are presently scheduled to pull in for liberty. Once on board, everyone on the crew needed to be fitted for personalized ear plugs for the flight deck. For those flying in CODS and helo’s: heart monitoring, reflex monitoring and high end hearing and vision testing all required in order to be cleared for flight.
The ramp up of knowledge required for us to be able to do our best work has been hard on all of the crew. But we are getting better and better by the day, learning the ropes and as the Navy likes to say “going native.” We have met some incredible people that we are focusing in on as our primary subjects. We are working with Shaneka McReed, and CMC, and while filming a DRB (Disciplinary Review Board) which is how rule infractions are handled at the most basic level and we have met Bobbie Pierpoint.